What should you expect from Legoland Florida? I've not been to the park, which has been built on the site of the old Cypress Gardens park in Winter Haven, southwest of Orlando. But I've been to its sister park, Legoland California, more times than I can count. And the former Legoland California general manager is running Florida park, which will offer a similar ride line-up to its California sibling.
Legoland might be the first major new theme park in Central Florida since Islands of Adventure debuted in 1999, but I can tell you from my experience with the California park that Legoland Florida won't be like Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld or Busch Gardens. Legoland theme parks are built to serve a specific niche - families with kids ages 2-12. (IMHO, it's really best for families with kids between ages 4-10.)
Notice that I didn't write "built to appeal" to those kids and families. This isn't just marketing schtick. Legolands really are built as active play places for those children. If you don't have kids in that age range, you might enjoy the impressive Lego models of famous landmarks in Miniland, or the restored gardens. But you won't enjoy the park nearly as much as if you visited with kids.
This might be heresy to Central Florida theme park managers and marketing pros, who have spent 40 years now trying to appeal to as massive an audience as possible. But Legoland management really doesn't mind if people who don't have kids between 2-12 never visit their park. It is, after all, built for kids.
Expect Legoland, then, to market this park to local families. Sure, Legoland would be thrilled if some of the millions of out-of-state and international visitors who come to Orlando each year made the drive down I-4 and through the back roads of Polk County to visit the new park. But it won't count on that. First, Disney's Magic Your Way tickets lock most of those visitors into Disney World for the duration of their vacation. Those who do get away are far more likely to stay in town and visit Harry Potter at Universal or even Shamu at SeaWorld than to make the drive to Legoland.
I know some park fans have scratched their heads and wondered why Lego chose to rebuild the Cypress Gardens property, where multiple parks have failed before, rather than build closer to Orlando. Again, based on my experience with the California park, allow me to suggest that, second, Legoland doesn't want to be in the center the action.
Attractions such as the Driving School and Rescue Academy, which forces families to play together, rather than just sit together watching a movie or animatronics, handle many hundreds fewer visitors per hour than higher-capacity rides like Pirates of the Caribbean or The Simpsons Ride. Because Legoland is designed for active play by kids who sometimes linger, it simply can't handle crowds the same way as the Magic Kingdom or Universal Studios Florida.
If Legoland were built on I-Drive, crowds would smother the park. Lines would last for hours and few families would ever want to visit again. But out in Winter Haven, only Legoland's fans will make the drive to visit the park. Crowds will be more manageable, and local families can have a park of their own, far from the madness of I-4 between Universal and Disney.
I've made a lot about this being a park for kids, but parents can expect to find many details in the park intended just for them, too. Take a close look when you visit Miniland. You might be surprised at some of the sights you find. Legoland revels in sly, sarcastic humor - visual jokes that often fly over the heads of the kids, but give the parents something to chuckle about.
Expect Legoland to offer events for local families, too. The park's already promoting itself as a site for school field trips, and in California it has offered a popular "Model Moms" program, an in-park get-together for mothers of pre-schoolers on certain weekday mornings. (The name is one of the most brilliant examples of theme park marketing ever - what stay-at-home mother of a toddler wouldn't want to be called a "model"?)
I'd love to hear reports from Theme Park Insider readers who visit during the premiere weekend. (Please post to the site or email photos and reports to me at email@example.com.)Tweet
We walked around the whole park and I could see a fair amount of smaller kids having a good time with the rides and play areas but there was really nothing that would appeal to the bigger kids or teens. Adults by themselves might enjoy the Miniland area and the gardens for a bit but it is not a whole day park at all.
Add in the hour drive from Orlando (it is not 45 minutes no matter what they say as the traffic backs up along SR 27)and the regular theme park crowd might go once but that's about it. I think they will have to market it carefully around here to appeal to the grandparents with visiting young families. The day ticket price of $70 adults and $59 kids is also a bit high and I heard some grumbling from people walking in about that.
The parking situation also needs to be better organized. We were quite a ways out and as there were no row numbers painted on the ground like the other parks have, it was confusing trying to find our car at the end of the day. I hope they address that before opening day.
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It's a classy addition.